16Aug2018

Harbeth loudspeaker 'In Your Words' featuring Tom Mallin

I first learned of Harbeth back in the late 1990s when the line's virtues were being trumpteted almost single-handedly in North America by Dr.Robert E.Greene (REG) writing in The Absolute Sound. I had long admired REG's equipment reviews, increasingly finding his assessments of loudspeaker virtues and vices well-aligned with my own. I took notice when REG in conclusion called the C7 ''quite extraordinarily good at sounding like music.'' I took extreme interest when he said that the M40's ''nearly ideal tonal character... superb midrange articulation,and the exquisite high frequencies carry all before them, and make this speaker hypnotic, addictive, irresistible.'' I was hooked when in conclusion he noted that a visiting listener said of the M40's sound, ''It sounds real, but it is almost more beautiful.''

 

And that beauty, my friends, is what made me purchase the original Monitor 40's once I got to hear them, then the M40.1s, and now the M40.2s. In the 17 years since I acquired the original M40s, many other speakers have come and gone at my house, but I keep coming back to the big Harbeth's because they, and only they, seem to have the sound of real, live unamplified music and have it in abundance. Especially in the midband, Harbeth's are superbly natural and real sounding. It is this part of the Harbeth sound which has been most important in repeatedly drawing me back to the M40 series year after year. If you know the sound of real acoustic instruments and voices in a favourable space, the Harbeth speakers, the M40 series in particular - and especially the M40.2 - nails that sound as no other speakers I've heard do. The impression on much material - not just a few audiophile specials - is overwhelmingly of the sound of actual players in front of you. 

 

From the start, my M40 set ups have been near field and to try to minimize the sonic contribution of my listening room and maximize the direct sound from the speakers. When the direct sound is this coherent and ravishingly real, I believe that second-venue listening room effects should be relegated to the background as much as possible.  My current listening room, a converted bedroom, is quite small at about 11 feet wide, 13 feet long, and 8.5 feet high. The M40.2 speakers with their grilles in place are set on TonTrager stands and toed in to point directly at my ears. My ears are nearly on the vertical axis with the tweeters, with my ears and the drivers forming an equilateral triangle with sides about 55 inches long. I use a combination of diffusers and absorbers at the first reflection areas of the speakers on the room surfaces as viewed from the listening position. The Rule of Thirds 29% Version set up I use keeps the speakers at different distances from the side and back walls, maintains an equilateral triangle set up, and keeps both the speakers and the listening position as far from the walls as practical, given the small room, so as to avoid the earliest reflections. With this arrangement, bass modes are less measurable and audible than with other arrangements I've tried and the spatial presentation and sense of envelopment is the best I've heard in this room. 

 

Sonically, my M40's in this arrangement are, for me, at-least, end-game speakers. They have the sound of music as I've always dreamed it would sound at home, far and away the best yet of the M40 series. There is total coherence among the drivers from very close up - even much closer than my near-field set up; the speakers disappear from the sonic field and give no clue of their multiple-driver nature. Bass has enough bottom octave extension to satisfy without any subwoofer support. The midbass and lower mids are full but not bloated. The lower ranges - together with the low distortion, great dynamic contrasts, and generous depth and vertical height illusions - all contribute to reproduction which sounds naturally weighty and authoritative. The justly vaunted Harbeth magical midrange now extends lower and up through the presence range and this extended magical range is, if anything, yet further enhanced in quality from its M40-series predecessors. There is increased presence, but this is increased presence does not grate at all and does not in any way reduce the wonderful depth perspective which the M40 series has had from the start.  The top octaves are truely exemplary - extended and airy, yet in perfect balance with the rest of the range and with perfect blending of the midrange and treble drivers. The speakers will play quite loudly without increased distortion and yet have tremendous real clarity at even whisper levels, a clarity which, together with the full lower ranges, allows for home reproduction with naturally balanced sound at the lower-than-expected measured SPLs we actually experience in a concert hall. As good as these parts are when analyzed, the Harbeth Monitor 40.2s sound even more impressively natural and real when considered as a whole without any attempt at sonic analysis. The whole package tends to disarm analysis since it just sounds so real, so beautiful. 

 

For Tom's full review of the Harbeth M40.2s.